Levon Helm: Gone to Play in the Band in the Sky

“Daniel, Daniel and the sacred harp, dancin’ through the clover.” Levon Helm sang it well.  Daniel bringing the harp from the Sea of Galilee. I wonder is Levon dancing in the clover today, playing the drums and singing like he did so many times before, causing us to dance or stomp our feet.

Levon Helms died this earlier this year, April 19th, 2012.

Levon sang that he deserved Daniel’s sacred harp, because they were related.  I have not idea what the relation was in Levon’s mind.  He was the second of four children born to Nell and Diamond Helm in Elaine, Arkansas. Diamond was a cotton farmer who occasionally entertained the locals as a musician. The Helms family loved music and often sang together. They listened to The Grand Ole Opry and Sonny Boy Williamson and His King Biscuit Entertainers regularly on the radio.

Leon started as a guitar player in his youth, but hearing how the introduction of drums enriched Elvis Presley’s performances, he picked up the sticks himself.  He calls his drummer’s stool “the best seat in the house,” because he can see his fellow musicians and his audience simultaneously.

He began his career in earnest playing with The Hawks.  He was the only American in the group of Canadians.  The Hawks gained their notoriety playing for Bob Dylan.  (Unreal how many artists Dylan helped with his lyrics or his voice)  Due to this backup role, the Hawks became known as The Band.  Some of their best music with Dylan were the albums Planet Waves and The Last Waltz, both non-Capitol releases. Their own most famous album was Music from Big Pink.

On Thanksgiving day 1976, The Band preformed its farewell concert at Winterland in San Francisco.  The called the concert The Last Waltz.  Guest appearances by Ronnie Hawkins (the originator of the Hawks), Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton made the concert one of the all time best rock and roll concerts.  It was filmed and has ranked near the top of all rockumentaries.

I have no idea how they did it, but someone posted the entire Last Waltz movie on Mixin including all the guests. Kick back and enjoy it (close to 2 hours long).

Helm recorded solo albums in 1980 and 1982 entitled American Son and (once again) Levon Helm, but for me, Helm’s greatest moment with The Band is their cover of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” from Cahoots (1971). You can hear it by clicking on the Youtube video below.

Levon died after an extended battle with cancer.  He recovered enough at one point to produce an album which he talks about on Eye to Eye with Katie Couric.

As a tribute to Levon, help someone with their load today, just as he sang in “The Weight” or “take a load of Fannie.” Just maybe you can help him paint his masterpiece.

Neil Young Remembers Kent State Massacre Again

Neil Young’s song Ohio has very little meaning to most people today.  To many of we  Baby Boomers, it is a remembrance of one of the darkest days in our journey during the 60s and 70s.  A President (JFL), a Presidential candidate (RFK), and a civil right icon (MLK) had been shot.  Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin perished with drug overdoses. The Kent State massacre holds the same level of importance in my mind and emotions.

Kent State Massacre

The May 4, l970 shooting of Kent State students that seemed to cause more anger than sorrow.  The Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators.  After the shots stopped, bodies laid all over the grounds.  Four were dead and nine more were wounded. It became known as the Kent State massacre.

The killings at Kent State ignited angry demonstrations across the country.  Students went on strike causing hundreds of colleges and universities to shut down.

Neil Young’s Ohio

Neil Young’s Ohio memorializes the four dead and the emotions of the time.

Neil Young and Jonathan Demme, the director of The Silence of the Lambs, have teamed up to produce Neil Young Journeys, their third documentary of Young.

Kent State Relatives

Demme appreciated the emotion in Young’s song and wanted to highlight it by showing images of the clash between the students and the protestors and the faces of the four dead. So he tracked down the families of those students and asked their permission to show the images. Securing their agreement was an emotional experience for Demme.

He says, “We were able to take the viewers back to the campus that day. I’m sure 75 per cent of the audience have never seen that footage, they probably don’t know the name of the college and they certainly don’t know there were two young women and two young men who got shot down that day.”

He adds about this remembrance of the Kent State massacre, “I thought, in these contentious times – with everything that’s going on in the country and around the world – how close are we to shooting our students again? I feel there’s a cautionary dimension to presenting the song today that I think is valuable”.

Boomer Cycling: Doing it With A Club

Baby Boomer Generation: My Road Cycling Craze

Texom Cycling Club Photo c/o George Mason

Baby Boomer Road Cycling

Road cycling is my new craze. I love it. Not that I am great at it or anything, but I love to have the wind in my ears once again.

I have been riding for almost a year now. In the beginning I would only ride about 7 or eight miles a couple of times a week on my Cannondale mountain bike. I thought I was going fast, but I had to stop at a dozen stop signs and signals around town. Yet, it did give me a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that I was doing something healthy.

Join a Cycling Club

Then back in October, I joined the Texoma Cycling Club. I started out riding their 14 mile Wednesday night rides. Soon Charlie Jenkins told me I could improve my speed and ease my effort by replacing my mountain bike tires with slicks. Wow, what a difference that made.

When daylight savings time ended, after my third Wednesday, night club ride, I joined the group on the Thursday, all-in-the-dark 15 mile rides. What an experience that was. Everyone, including me, in their “they can see me in the dark” shirt and lights. Soon Charlie’s wife, Pat, told me I should raise my seat (the one on the bike, lol) “it will improve your efficiency.” So, I did and was surprised how much faster and longer I could ride.

I rode throughout the winter, all bundled up, and loved it.

I just completed a week of four rides totaling 70 miles, a new high for me. I remember back when I would
RUN that many miles in a week back in college. But, I am not back in college. I am 63, had triple bypass surgery eight years ago, and two stints added a year ago. Seventy miles on a bike in a week is just great.

I encourage you to take up road cycling. You would be surprised how many baby boomers are doing it. Join a club, the comradery and advice is a real plus. You will not regret it.

60s Music at the Grammys